What with being a crusading newspaper columnist, I have had the pleasure of taking my dogs to a lot of unusual events during the course of my canine-intensive career.
For starters, I can recall the glorious moments when my now-late basset hound Cooper left a "gift" on the sparkling floor of the Fairmont hotel lobby and dove nose-first into the clam dip at Yappy Hour, a posh cocktail party for dogs and their owners in support of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
I have also been able to bring my dogs to work with me as part of this newspaper’s groundbreaking Newsroom Dogs project, wherein editorial employees are still able to bring their four-legged friends to the office two days a week.
But I had never taken my canine chums to a professional sporting event — at least I hadn’t until Saturday night, when two of my beloved mutts joined me and a few friends at Bark in the Park, the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ annual dog-friendly game.
My furry friends and I were fiercely determined to help the local baseball squad in their quest to set the world record for the most dogs to attend a pro sporting event.
In case you have not already heard, this year’s attempt fell a few cold noses short of a record — in the sense 973 dogs (each with an owner in tow) trotted into Shaw Park on Saturday night, which was just a little shy of the mark held by the Chicago White Sox, who welcomed 1,122 dogs to their park for a Major League Baseball game in 2016.
It is extremely difficult, using mere words, to convey how surreal it is to attend a baseball game in a fancy ballpark and be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of barking, whining, sniffing, drooling, panting dogs, but I will give it the old college try: it’s (bad word) surreal!
When we arrived for the game, my pack consisted of my buddy Bob, who is also the publisher of this paper and who had his basset hound-beagle cross Toby in tow; Bob’s wife, Lena, who was riding shotgun on my buddy Bogey (a.k.a. "Mr. X"), who is a cross between a cotton swab and a throw pillow; and myself and Juno, our newest dog who has the leaping ability of a jackrabbit.
The first thing we had to do was pass through the special gate reserved for dogs and their owners, which required us to produce more documentation — tickets, waivers, game guidelines — than you would have needed if you were going from East Berlin to West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie at the height of the Cold War.
As soon as we got through the gates, our first stop was the "Puppy Potty Zone," a large layer of sod with makeshift fire hydrants set up for our pooches to do the thing they enjoy doing the most when they are out in public, which, in baseball terms, sort of involves relief pitching, if you catch my drift.
Our first organized activity was the Pooch Parade, which involved hundreds of owners and dogs strutting their stuff around the warning track just before the Goldeyes kicked off that night’s game against the — brace yourselves for an awesome coincidence — Chicago Dogs.
This parade took a little longer than you might think because more than a few of the dogs felt this was the appropriate time to anoint the field with the WeeWee of Joy, and several players could not resist the temptation to sprint over and scratch a few of their four-legged fans on their fuzzy little heads.
It was very much like going to a traditional dog park and having a baseball game break out in the field. As a professional journalist, calling on my highly trained powers of observation, I would offer this insightful comment: there were (bad word) dogs everywhere.
Based on my years of experience attending sporting events, I would have to say the dogs behaved far better than their human counterparts.
There were dogs in line to get hotdogs, in line to get hot pretzels, in line to get cold beers, in line to buy official Goldeyes souvenirs. Other than greeting each other by sniffing every canine posterior at nose level — we even greeted Mayor Brian Bowman’s dog, Indiana, in this manner — the dogs displayed a great understanding of the rules of etiquette.
When the game was in progress, you could not walk down the steps to your seat because a park employee was standing there with a sign stating you had to wait for a break in play. Which meant you would see a small pack of dogs lying down, politely waiting for permission, before trotting down the steps to their assigned seats.
For the most part, Juno sat in the seat beside me, while Bogey and Toby rested on the concrete floor beneath our seats. All around us, curious dog heads popped up like gophers poking out of holes, sniffing the air and rooting ("Woof!") the Fish on to a 2-1 victory over the Dogs.
The highlight for my pack came when they were allowed to sample the naan bread that came with the Indian food we purchased as a pre-game snack.
Another highlight came when Lena and I decided to obtain delicious beverages at the craft beer tent, which meant we handed the reins to all three dogs to Bob, who claims that he is NOT a crazy dog lover like myself. As we paid for our brews, we glanced over and there was Bob, smiling a beatific smile, as a swarm of deliriously delighted dogs swirled about him.
"You LOVED that!" I told Bob.
"GROWL!" is what I believe he replied.
In the end, we were mildly saddened to fall short of the record, but the dogs turned out to be major baseball fans because the game’s central goal is something they understand with all their heart — going home.
Which is to say their favourite part was the car ride home — they insisted on sticking their heads out the car window in the faint hope a fly ball would come their way.
Doug Speirs’ humour column, In the Doug House, has appeared on Page 2 of the Winnipeg Free Press at least three times a week since 2006. No one is exactly sure why.